Fire in the Head – 3

Awen – Part III – Fionn Mac Cumhaill

In this part of my little Awen series well go over the story from Irish legend, the tale of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. He was the greatest leader of the Fianna, the ancient warrior band of old Ireland.
This folktale is another important piece in Celtic mythology that is steeped in druidic lore.


Fionn was the son of Cumhall, leader of the ancient Fianna, and Muirne, daughter of the Druid Tadg mac Nuadat who lived on the hill of Almu in County Kildare (Ireland).

The Fianna never owned any lands but were famous for their generosity. It was said that they travelled every road of Ireland, visiting every place and knew the entrances to the Otherworld.

Cumhall abducted Muirne after her father refused him her hand, so Tadg appealed to the High King, Conn of the Hundred Battles, who outlawed Cumhall. The Battle of Cnucha was fought between Conn and Cumhall, and Cumhall was killed by Goll mac Morna, who took over leadership of the Fianna.

Muirne was already pregnant; her father rejected her and ordered his people to burn her, but Conn would not allow it and put her under the protection of Fiacal mac Conchinn, whose wife, Bodhmall the Druid, was Cumhall’s sister. In Fiacal’s house Muirne gave birth to a son.

Muirne left the boy in the care of Bodhmall and a fighting woman, Liath Luachra, and they brought him up in secret in the forest of Sliabh Bladma, teaching him the arts of war and hunting.

The young Fionn met the Druid and poet Finn Eces, or Finnegas, near the river Boyne and studied under him. Finnegas had spent seven years trying to catch the Salmon of Knowledge, which lived in a pool on the Boyne and became all-knowing through its diets of hazelnuts from a holy tree: whoever ate the salmon would gain all the knowledge in the world. Eventually the old man caught it and told the boy to cook it for him. While cooking it Fionn burned his thumb, and instinctively put his thumb in his mouth. This imbued him with the salmon’s wisdom, and when Finn Eces saw that he had gained wisdom, he gave young Fionn the whole salmon to eat. Fionn then knew how to gain revenge against Goll, and in subsequent stories was able to call on the knowledge of the salmon by putting his thumb to the tooth that had first tasted the salmon.


Like in the Welch tale of Taliesin, both boys burn they thump on the Awen and gain instant knowledge.